IAEA praises reform of Japan's nuclear regulator

22 January 2016

Japan's nuclear regulator has "demonstrated independence and transparency" since it was established in 2012, an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) peer review mission has concluded. However, it suggests the regulator needs to bolster its technical competence ahead of the restart of more of Japan's nuclear facilities.

IRRS mission to Japan - Jamet - Jan 2016 - 460 (NRA)
Team leader Philippe Jamet presented the mission's findings at a press conference today (Image: NRA)

The IAEA's Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) mission to Japan began on 11 January and ended today. During this period, the 24-member team met with staff from Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), observed regulatory activities and visited nuclear-related sites. They will also met with other Japanese officials. The team reviewed the responsibilities and functions of the government and the NRA, the authorization of nuclear and radiation facilities and activities, safety assessments, inspections, as well as emergency preparedness and response.

The NRA was established in September 2012 - following the 2011 Fukushima accident - to replace the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, itself part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which promoted the use of nuclear energy.

The IRRS team noted that Japan had been "swift" in establishing a legal and governmental framework that supports a new independent and transparent regulatory body with increased powers. The team also said the NRA has "promptly and effectively" incorporated lessons learnt from the Fukushima Daiichi accident into the country's new regulatory framework.

Team leader Philippe Jamet, commissioner of the French Nuclear Safety Authority, said: "In the few years since its establishment, the NRA has demonstrated its independence and transparency. It has established new regulatory requirements for nuclear installations and reviewed the first restart applications by utilities." He added, "This intensive and impressive work must continue with equal commitment, as there are still significant challenges in the years to come."

The mission team has also made recommendations and suggestions to the NRA and the government "to help them enhance the implementation of Japan's regulatory framework to strengthen nuclear and radiation safety". These include that the NRA should try to attract "competent and experienced staff", as well as enhancing the skills of its staff through education, training, research and international cooperation.

The team also suggested Japanese authorities amend relevant legislation to enable the NRA to perform more effective inspections of facilities. It also recommended the NRA and nuclear licensees "continue to strengthen the promotion of safety culture, including by fostering a questioning attitude".

The team's final report will be delivered to the Japanese government in about three months. The government plans to make the report public.

NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka said, "NRA will seriously consider the findings in striving to further enhance nuclear safety and security in Japan."

A follow-up IRRS mission will be carried out within the next four years to review progress in implementing the suggestions and recommendations of the initial IRRS mission.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News